Power of the Pigdog

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My name is Fergus, I’m 22 years old, and on the 12th of December 2018 I am attempting to squat 460,000kg in 24 hours to raise money for the Movember Foundation. Why? Because I know first-hand how the challenges of mental health can affect young men, and because I want to do my best to ensure that others don’t make the same mistakes I did.

To provide some context: I was a high achiever at school, and had developed a real hunger for success and self-development. I secured a place at a top tier university to study Theology and Religion, but found my initial university experience to be underwhelming both socially and academically. I channelled my focus and drive to succeed into Powerlifting, and qualified for international competition by doing so.

However, this wasn’t enough to make me happy... I felt enormously isolated, and without purpose, as if my development as a person had come to a standstill. Over my first two years at university this manifested itself into depression, which I kept entirely to myself, and did my absolute best to put on a brave face to pretend I was fine. I could barely sleep, and when I could, I would see no reason to get out of bed other than to go to the gym. I had lost all sense of purpose and drive, and felt like I had lost sight of who I was.

(You can find a more in-depth background in ‘My Story’).

Ultimately, I attempted to take my own life in 2016.

Thankfully, I failed to do so. You would think that I would have immediately sought help from my friends and family, however, I did not. This is because I had never felt so weak and defeated for letting myself get to that stage, and felt like I had truly failed.

The positive was that I knew I had to talk to someone, but I never built up the courage to do so, as I felt like it made me weak, and would detract from people’s expectations of me.

My solution? I bought a dog. Odysseus, the 14-week old French Bulldog who I fell in love with as soon as he decided to have a snooze on my leg when we first met.

He immediately gave me a new lease of life, and negated all feeling of loneliness. The stress and demand of looking after a puppy (with absolutely no prior canine experience) was exactly what I needed – a challenge. Suddenly my life had never seemed so important, as I was this tiny little creature’s whole world, and somehow instantaneously he had become mine. I developed a much more rigid routine, began sleeping properly again, and most importantly, looked forward to the day ahead.

It sounds strange, but Odie was the first person I spoke to about my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t pairing our walks with pertinent psychoanalysis, but I was able to say words out loud that I never thought I could.

Ultimately, Odie helped me get to a stage where I felt comfortable enough to talk to my family about everything that had happened, which, through simply providing a support network for me to access, has since made talking about my challenges a far more comfortable process.

I am not encouraging you to buy yourself a dog if you are ever feeling depressed, I am instead encouraging something much simpler: reach out, speak out, and be a man of more words.  

My story is an example of how having the courage to take control of my own situation was what saved my life, albeit through dialogue with something that could not speak back. The point is this: I knew I needed help, and although it took me too long to act upon it, when I did it saved my life.

Each and every one of us owes it to ourselves to speak up if we ever need help, it does not make you any less of a man, the courage and bravery it takes to talk to someone, I would in fact argue, makes you more of a man

Last year over 500,000 men tried to take their own life; 7 out of 10 suicides are men; 1 in 8 men in the UK have experienced a mental health problem.

Being a man doesn’t mean being invincible, it doesn’t mean showing no emotion, it certainly doesn’t mean that you cannot speak up – to me, to be a man means to take responsibility for yourself, and to take responsibility for those that you care about.

I have no doubt that my friends and family would have helped me avoid the stage that I got to had I reached out to them, but I did not speak out.

I know for a fact that hearing from someone who had suffered a similar downturn to me would have helped me figure out that I needed help sooner, but I did not speak out.

Society doesn’t look at mental illness as a weakness, and each and every one of us has a duty of care to the person next to us now and in future to make sure that everything is fine. We will all always have access to someone who will listen, but, I did not speak out.

To be a better man, I had to be a man of more words.

 To get the help that I needed to feel like I was moving forwards again, I had to be a man of more words.

To help my friends deal with their own mental challenges, and allow them to finally open up to someone, I had to be a man of more words.

I grew up obsessed with J.R.R Tolkien’s literature, and even did my dissertation on The Lord of the Rings. There is one phrase that has stuck in my mind and will do for the rest of my life, and I believe that it neatly summarises the issue I am hoping to raise awareness of:

‘All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost’

If you feel like you have wandered, remember you are not lost. If you are pretending to be gold, but know you don’t glitter, then speak up, reach out, and be a man of more words.

Paul Murphy